What are cardiovascular diseases?

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels that include

Cerebrovascular disease – a disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain

Coronary heart disease – a disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle

Peripheral arterial disease – a disease of blood vessels supplying the arms and legs

Rheumatic heart disease – damage to the heart muscle and heart valves from rheumatic fever caused by streptococcal bacteria

Congenital heart disease – birth defects that affect the normal development and functioning of the heart caused by malformations of the heart structure from birth

Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – blood clots in the leg veins, which can dislodge and move to the heart and lungs

Common symptoms of cardiovascular disease

Frequently, the underlying blood vessel illness has no symptoms. The initial symptom of an underlying condition may be a heart attack or stroke.

Symptoms of a heart attack include

  • Pain in the centre of the chest
  • Pain in the arms, left shoulder, elbows, jaw, or back
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Light-headedness
  • Cold sweat and turning pale

Symptoms of a stroke include

  • Sudden weakness of the face, arm, or leg, most often on one side of the body
  • Confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Difficulty seeing with one or both eyes
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause
  • Fainting or unconsciousness

People with these symptoms should seek medical help immediately!

Heart attacks and strokes

Are typically sudden, severe events that are mostly brought on by a blockage that stops the flow of blood to the heart or brain. Fatty deposits that have accumulated on the inner walls of the blood arteries that supply the heart or brain are the most frequent cause of this. Blood clots or haemorrhage from a brain blood artery can result in strokes.

FAQs on cardiac health

The most common behavioural risk factors for heart disease include

  • Unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • High consumption of alcohol

These behavioural risk factors may lead to high blood pressure, raised blood glucose, raised blood lipids and obesity. All these intermediate risk factors can be measured in care facilities or clinics to indicate an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other complications. Other factors that may contribute to intermediate risk factors include poverty, stress, and hereditary factors. Patients with conditions like hypertension, diabetes and high blood lipids should receive medication to reduce the risk and prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Your health care provider will ask about your personal and family medical history prior to examination. Besides blood tests and a chest X-ray, tests to diagnose heart disease may include

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG)
  • Holter monitoring
  • Echocardiogram
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Exercise or stress tests
  • Heart CT scan
  • Heart magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Cardiac enzymes
  • Full blood count
  • Thyroid function test
  • Lipid profile
  • Clotting screen
  • B-type natriuretic peptides
  • Other blood tests like Liver Function Test and U&E to monitor medication

Although many nations’ health systems need major investment and reorientation to effectively treat CVDs, the key to reducing cardiovascular disease is the inclusion of cardiovascular disease management strategies in universal health coverage packages. In some cases, basic medicines like aspirin, or beta-blockers may be given to a patient for heart disease, however sometimes, surgical operations like coronary artery bypass, valve repair and replacement, or heart transplantation is required. Often medical devices like pacemakers or prosthetic valves are used to treat heart disease. The cardiologist will treat the patient according to their specific risk factors.

Risk for heart disease may be reduced by living a healthy lifestyle

  • Reduce salt in diet
  • Quit smoking
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables
  • Exercise
  • Reduce alcohol intake